In the exciting months leading up to her wedding on 24 September 2016, Kathryn Reffold, 36, of Walthamstow, London, felt fatigued, suffered indigestion and had a pain in her shoulder.
She put the symptoms down to tiredness, caused by wedding planning – not realising she actually had a rare type of cancer called cholangiocarcinoma, which has a high mortality rate.
The advanced form of bile duct cancer has now spread to her bones, lungs and brain.
Kathryn is currently crowdfunding for potentially life-saving treatment in Texas.
By the time Kathryn’s cancer was diagnosed, on 19 October, two weeks after returning from her honeymoon in Malta, it had spread to her bones and lungs.
During an MRI scan in June she learnt it had spread to her brain.
Now, she is fighting for her life. Over the past few months she has lost three stone. She is off sick from work and sleeps for most of the day.
Kathryn has undergone rounds of chemotherapy and thinks her last hope is a “miracle” from a hospital in Texas, but fears she might not be well enough to travel there.
Recounting her story, Kathryn, who became engaged to designer Harry, 33, following a trip to Bali in February 2016, told how a busy life in the capital combined with wedding planning meant she initially didn’t think much of her tiredness.
She was not even especially concerned when, during the summer months of 2016, she developed heartburn and her shoulder ached.
“I was working at an agency,” Kathryn explained. “I’d also been planning my wedding. I didn’t think it was anything more than that. There’s a lot to do, so every bride gets tired.”
On the big day Kathryn felt fine. Around 40 friends watched her marry Harry in a courtyard in Gozo, an island off the coast of Malta.
“I felt well,” she continued. “It was perfect, the best day, intimate, brilliant, my favourite day ever.”
The new bride and groom extended their stay in Malta by a week. But, on returning home, her health took a sudden downwards turn when she started feeling itchy.
“I looked yellow too,” she said.
When the itchiness didn’t go she feared she might have jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes caused by liver or bile duct abnormalities.
One week after returning from their honeymoon, she went to casualty at Whipps Cross Hospital in Walthamstow.
There, following an endoscopy, where a camera attached to a tube is used to look inside your body, Kathryn was referred to the Royal Marsden Hospital in Fulham and diagnosed with bile duct cancer.
According to the NHS, it’s an incredibly rare type of cancer which usually affects the over-65s. Its causes can be varied and Kathryn doesn’t know why she developed it.
“I felt like the world had fallen in,” she said. “I pretty much passed out straight away. It was horrific.
“They effectively said it was incurable and they couldn’t operate. It was not expected.”
She immediately had stents inserted into her bile duct but a few days later, following a further scan, learnt the cancer was stage four – meaning it had spread to her bones and lungs.
“It spread to my bones and lungs almost immediately,” she explained.
At the Royal Marsden, doctors put her on gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy – but the cancer spread to her brain.
“It’s pretty much disabled me,” she admitted. “It breaks you eventually. The radiotherapy kills pain and gives you longer to fight it.”
On 8 July, Kathryn celebrated her 36th birthday with a party – a date she wasn’t sure she’d see. She said: “It is amazing that I am still here, every day is a blessing, but I am not ready to roll over and quit just yet.”
Now, Kathryn is pleading for people to help raise £100,000 so she can try treatment in Texas.
The doctors recently gave her a short prognosis. But she is desperate to outlive their expectations, so has been put on a privately-funded medical trial in the UK, with the aim of shrinking the tumours.
Friends have so far donated in excess of £32,000 but she wants more so she can possibly visit a hospital in Texas for further treatment.
But US doctors need money to even make an assessment.
“Cancer is a daily fight and I am asking for your help in beating this thing as technological advances are so close, the doctors have said that if they could keep me alive for five years then a cure should be available,” she said.
“Well, I am three months away from having made it through a year and I hope that this year will make all the difference, with your support.”
Donate to Kathryn’s cause at https://www.gofundme.com/kats-fund-for-medical-trip.